California sanctuary cities bill is humane and effective

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California has just become the first sanctuary state of the 21st century thanks to Gov. Jerry Brown’s (D) signing of Senate Bill 54, which limits state and local police cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

This is good news because greater policing of immigrants by local law enforcement, it turns out, has not enhanced public safety and has resulted in significant human costs.

{mosads}The California Values Act (SB 54), prevents local jails from holding releasable inmates — a practice that had given U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) time to collect them.


The bill also places strict limits on ICE transfers, or the practice of notifying ICE when an inmate will be released, while also limiting “joint task forces,” or teams of federal agents and local officers that work together.

Even though SB 54 may seem like a radical departure from business as usual, it actually represents a return to previous practices.

Historically, immigration enforcement was left to the federal government. But over the past few decades, under both conservative and liberal administrations and through various programs — Secure Communities, Criminal Alien Program and 287g — local officers have increasingly been asked to police immigration in new and complex ways.

Today, this devolution of immigration enforcement is reaching its apex thanks to executive orders signed by President Trump. California’s state sanctuary bill is a conscious effort to push back.

SB 54 is backed by the data; devolution policies do not enhance public safety, as originally thought. One study of Secure Communities found the program was associated with a less than 1 percent reduction in murder, rape, larceny and vehicle theft. Another reports it has had “no observable effect on the overall crime rate.”

What explains these findings? Devolution’s foundational assumptions are flawed. Contrary to popular belief, immigrants are not more crime-prone than their native-born counterparts and immigration to an area does not cause crime to rise, as one of us recently explained and demonstrated with a newly published meta-analysis of the literature.

Moreover, devolution does not target the right offenders. The pettiest of offenders constitute the bulk of those identified. The study mentioned earlier found that the most radical expansion of “criminal aliens” removed between 2004 and 2012 was for, of all things, traffic offenses.

Devolution policies aren’t just ineffective: they may do more harm than good. Police-community relations break down. Enforcing immigration law counteracts efforts to engage more closely with the community.

Police need the trust and cooperation of residents, including immigrants, to do their job effectively, and they rely on the willingness of victims and bystanders to cooperate with investigations. Law enforcement leaders, including the LAPD’s Chief Beck, worry that devolution is eroding decades of progress.

Worse relations with police may cause crime to increase. Immigrants may choose not to report crime or victimization to law enforcement authorities because they fear the police — exacerbating victim’s  vulnerability and emboldening criminals.

And, there are potential abuses. Officers who prefer more aggressive immigration enforcement might make arrests for offenses that otherwise would be too petty, in an attempt to screen a person through Homeland Security databases. This could lead to racial profiling, and more lawsuits against police departments.

Finally, devolution policies have significant human costs. The individual being deported is not the only one affected: innocent family members, especially children, remain behind and become victims. The Urban Institute assessed the impact of immigration workplace raids on children and families. The results are striking. The children left behind bear the psycholgical trauma of having a parent deported and face the prospect of foster care.

California’s stance today echoes earlier times. Newly released digital archives at the University of California, Irvine show that California was home to a critical mass of cities declaring themselves sanctuaries for Central American refugees in the 1980s, when political violence caused many to flee.

Former L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley said that even though they didn’t legally reside in L.A., “in too many cases, they are also living lives of poverty, fear and desperation. And the city has an obligation to provide all of its inhabitants with fire, police and other essential services.”

The politics of sanctuary still involve refugees from war-torn countries but today also involve undocumented immigrants simply seeking a better life. Yet the obligation Mayor Bradley spoke of has not changed, and California has not forgotten.

With California’s sanctuary state bill now signed into law, it carries with it a tradition of both humanity and good governance.

Charis E. Kubrin, professor of criminology, law and society at the University of California Irvine, has published extensively on the immigration-crime link. Benjamin Leffel, Ph.D. student in the department of sociology at the University of California Irvine, researches a range of issue areas on subnational affairs.

Tags Donald Trump Immigration Sanctuary city

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